Mr. Ambassador, don’t sell the Sahrawis out.

Carlos González

I recently read an op-ed article of March 3rd in The New York Times regarding the conflict in the Western Sahara, titled: “Will Freedom Bloom in the Desert?” by Ambassador Frederick Vreeland, a former United States representative to Rabat in 1992-1993.

Ambassador Vreeland praises “Morocco’s young king, Mohammed VI” and encourages the UN Security Council to support the king’s proposal for autonomy for the Western Sahara within the greater Morocco. All in the name of the fight against “Islamic extremism”.
The article’s chronology suggests that Algeria helped create the Polisario (Sahrawi) Front in order to fight the Moroccan occupation, when in fact the Polisario Front was formed years earlier to fight the Spanish occupation of the Western Sahara and gain independence to create a democratic and sovereign state.

The Sahrawi people practice one of the purest forms of Islam, it’s a peaceful, matriarchal society not easily found in the Islamic world. They were nomads and they have never had mosques. They pray alone at their own convenience. No pressure is put on anybody to be religious.  I believe there are more “Islamic extremists” being bred in the mosques and koranic schools of Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, than in the Sahrawi refugee camps of Tindouf, Algeria.

It is no secret to anybody that knows this sadly forgotten conflict, that Morocco’s human rights record in the Western Sahara is deplorable. Human rights activists are being intimidated and tortured, peaceful demonstrations are not tolerated, and the Sahrawis are treated as second-class citizens in their own land.
The UNHCR - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - wrote in their 2006 report on the Western Sahara that, “urgent measures should be taken to ensure the full application of the obligations undertaken by Morocco under the ICCPR and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”.

A de facto cultural genocide is being committed in the Moroccan controlled school system. Sahrawi schoolchildren are not being taught either their language or their culture. In fact, they are punished if heard speaking Hassaniya or in any way expressing their heritage. On March 10th, Elhoucine Iemsid (12 years old), Elhafed Lhwaimad (13), Fdaili Addoua (13), and Bawbba Mohamed (14), were detained and tortured by Moroccan authorities for participating in peaceful demonstrations and for the distribution of Polisario flags and leaflets.

In June 2006, I traveled to the Western Sahara to make a documentary about Moroccan repression against schoolchildren. During my visit, I interviewed children that had been intimidated and beaten by the Moroccan authorities for demonstrating peacefully. Primary and secondary schools are under siege, surrounded by the military, auxiliary forces and the GUS, the feared riot police known as “croatas”.

Moroccan police immediately put me under surveillance and questions were being asked as to my presence in El Aaiun. I was ultimately detained and interrogated without the right to contact my embassy or make any telephone calls. I was expelled from the country and a fabricated confession of mine surfaced in the Assabah newspaper of Casablanca. I had allegedly confessed to being an agent for Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.

I recently came back from the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria. The camps are autonomous within Algeria and are administered by the SADR, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic - the Sahrawi government in exile. In their constitution of 1976, they define themselves as “an independent and sovereign state, which is governed by a democratic system on the basis of free popular participation”.

This is what they want to become when they get their country back. Strangely, Ambassador Vreeland is asking that a future democratic state be absorbed by a monarchy.

The Western Sahara is a full member of the African Union and is recognized as a sovereign state by over 40 countries. The United Nations recognizes their right to self-determination and has been calling for a referendum since 1991 so the Sahrawi people can decide for themselves whether they want to be independent or become part of Morocco. Morocco has been stalling since. The UNHCR Report of 2006 recommends that, “the right to selfdetermination for the people of Western Sahara must be ensured and implemented without further delay”.

Ambassador Vreeland - son of fashion icon Diana Vreeland – is a very well connected gentleman. He graduated from Yale in 1951 and became a career CIA and State Department official. More pertinent perhaps, is the fact that he is founder and Chairman of Noor Web S.A., a company that installs and maintains solar power systems in Morocco. He is a Marrakech resident and has strong economic ties to the Moroccan Kingdom.

Let’s give the Sahrawi people their right for self-determination and let them decide for themselves. We would be better served by supporting a young democracy in North Africa. Let’s put the Sahrawi people on the radar of world attention and encourage democracy.

Carlos González is a filmmaker residing in Los Angeles. He tried to publish his article in the New York times but in vain.

Carlos González
Director of Photography

[ver tambien su Declaracion del 07.06.06]